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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

Beauty for ashes

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

The prophet Isaiah is known in part for predicting the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Isaiah chapter 53 is of particular note because it describes Jesus as the One who suffered in our place for our sins. This passage is quoted in Mark 15:28, Acts 8:32-33, Rom 10:16, and 1Peter 2:24-25. Another Messianic passage in Isaiah is chapter 61:1-3. Jesus quoted this passage in the synagogue of Nazareth to announce its fulfillment in Him (Lk 4:16-21). Isaiah 61:3 says He will give beauty for ashes. When people were expressing repentance, grief, or mourning they would sometimes put ashes on themselves (2Sam 13:19, Est 4:1, Job 42:6, Dan 9:3, Mt 11:21). This reminds us that our bodies are made of dust and will return to dust because of sin (Gen 3:19). Therefore, part of the meaning of the phrase "beauty for ashes" is that the Messiah will save us from our sins and give us spiritual beauty in the sight of God instead of shame for sin.

The Lord destroyed the world through a flood because of sin (Gen 6-9, Ps 104, Mt 24:38-39, 2Pet 2:5, 1Pet 3:20-21, 2Pet 3:3-10). Yet, based on the descriptions of it and its aftermath as well as the correct interpretation of the evidence it left behind, many of the natural wonders we marvel at today such as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley in Arizona, mountains, and probably other formations such as what is called Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Ayers Rock in Australia were formed because of it. Although it was a disastrous end, it was also a beautiful beginning. The flood symbolizes the new birth of water baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost (Jn 3:3-5, Acts 2:38, Acts22:16,1Pet 3:20-21).

God is the master of bringing good out of evil when it is placed in His hands. He can even take our sins and make good come out them when we repent and change. This is not to condone sin, but to show that the grace of God is indeed amazing as the song says (Rom 6:1-4). David sinned against the Lord with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered, but he repented (2Sam 11-12, Ps 51). The punishment for adultery and murder in the law of Moses was death (Ex 21:12, Lev 20:10). David was forgiven and was excused from the death penalty, but he still suffered consequences for the rest of his life. One of those consequences was that the child conceived through his adultery died. Yet David married Bathsheba who later gave birth to Solomon, his successor.

Johann and Maria married in 1767. They had seven children. Their first child lived only six days. Their third child was sickly and died of tuberculosis at 41. Their fifth, sixth, and seventh children died as babies. Maria died the same year as her last child. Johann became an alcoholic. Because of this, their second son had to take responsibility for the family at 17. His nephew attempted suicide. He began suffering from gradually worsening hearing loss in his twenties, and when he died at 56 he was almost completely deaf. Yet, despite all of this, he became who many consider to be the greatest composer of music of all time - Ludwig van Beethoven. He wrote all of his symphonies and most of his other major works after the onset of his deafness. Because of it, he could no longer perform which was a major source of income, and he became increasingly unable to appear in public. Out of his suffering came some of the best music ever written.

Joseph Merrick, also known as John, was born on August 5, 1862, although there are questions about the accuracy of some of the details of his life. In his early childhood at around five years old, he began to develop physical deformities. His mother died when he was 11, and his father and new step-mother rejected him. He had two younger siblings who died early of other issues. He went to live with his uncle. He had great difficulty walking, eating, and talking because his deformities were so severe. He had an enlarged and deformed head and limbs, and he had large growths all over his body. To avoid a scene caused by horrific reactions to his deformities when he went out, he would have to wear a large cloak and a sack over his head with a hole cut out of it so he could see. His deformities smelled. He later went on display, starting in the same Whitechapel neighborhood of London that the infamous Jack the Ripper operated. He earned money as what was then called a freak under the name "The Elephant Man". He was discovered by Dr. Frederick Treves of the London Hospital who studied his disease. He went on tour through Europe and was robbed and abandoned by his manager. He managed to find his way back to London and Dr. Treves at the hospital. He was allowed to live there the rest of his life. He was able to enjoy visitors, trips to the country, and even the opera. He was unable to sleep lying down because his head was so big and heavy that he would be unable to breathe. He died at 27 when he apparently tried it anyway, as Dr. Treves put it, to be like other people. It was suspected that due to his extreme deformities he would have only lived a few more years. His skeleton is on display in the London Hospital. His condition was never conclusively diagnosed. We can only imagine what his life was like. It was depicted in the 1980 film "The Elephant Man" by David Lynch, and it gives us a little sense of it. This film shows us that despite everything he suffered, he was intelligent and capable of emotional sensitivity. His body was deformed, but not his spirit. We can learn from him that when we are tempted to complain or be bitter about our circumstances, there are people like Joseph Merrick who have it worse and do not.

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